Ian Evatt praised the fight, passion and determination of his players as they dug deep to secure the win that keeps their play-off push firmly on course.
Conor Bradley’s seventh goal of the season after almost half an hour at St James’ Park was enough to halt Exeter’s four-match winning home run.
But it took a magnificent defensive display – without the injured duo of Ricardo Almeida Santos and Eoin Toal – in the second half to see out a 1-0 victory which keeps the Whites fifth in the League One table with seven games to go.
“In the second half we were tired and you could see Sunday creeping into our game,” said Evatt, five days on from seeing his side win at Wembley to lift the Papa Johns Trophy.
“We were really gutsy and I’m proud of the players. We did the hard yards in the first half. Some of our play was outstanding. The goal was really well worked.
“The only slight concern I had that was that from the final pass we really had the opportunity to put the game to bed.
“Exeter have won their last four games and the second half was always going to be a challenge.
“We were always going to start to fatigue after last weekend and we’ve had a bit of adversity with Rico and Eoin Toal being injured.
“But we toughed it out and showed we were up for the fight and I’m really pleased for them.”
Wanderers hope Santos can make it back quicker than a possible four-week absence with a thigh injury but will certainly have to manage without their skipper and key defender for much of the run-in.
George Johnston made a superb return alongside the re-called Luke Mbete and Gethin Jones to keep Exeter and the chasing pack in League One at bay.
And Evatt couldn’t have been happier at the outcome ahead of Monday’s visit of Cambridge United to a rapidly selling out University of Bolton Stadium.
“There’s a steely determination in that group at the moment and I’m really pleased for them,” added the Wanderers’ boss.
“They showed fight, passion and determination. The substitutes really helped us and you have to do that away from home.
“They stood up to be counted and made sure we got the win. And at this stage of the season, it’s all about winning football matches.
“All we can do is take care of our own business. This game is done now.
“It’s parked and we have to concentrate on winning our next half of football, never mind the game, and that’s Monday against Cambridge, who are fighting for their lives.”